Call it operatic folk, eastern-tinged soft rock, or something else entirely, Nancy Elizabeth makes a big splash with her dramatically beautiful debut album, Battle and Victory. Lancashire born Elizabeth, born with the last name Cunliffe, but dropped because no one could pronounce it correctly, enters the indie folk-rock sphere with a bag full of exotic instruments and a gorgeous voice. Fans of Joanna Newsom, Espers, Meg Baird, Vashti Bunyan and other like-minded artists will surely find reason to rejoice in Nancy Elizabeth.
Opener “I’m Like the Paper” finds Elizabeth with the operatic vocal tendencies of Shara Worden and the dramatic medieval sounds of a hipper Loreena McKennitt. Throughout the album, Elizabeth uses varied instruments to attain different atmospheres, using such tools as the harp (take that Joanna Newsom! You’re not the only game in town!), the bouzouki, dulcimer and harmonium. Some songs take on Eastern flavors, which could have been guessed by the Japanese-style album cover art, some taken on sounds from Medieval England and some a more Middle Eastern approach. What they all have in common is a lovely sense of drama and melancholy.
“I Used to Try” builds like an Explosions in the Sky track, and nearly carries as much of a punch, with special thanks to the pounding bass drum. Some of these songs, such as “I Used to Try,” “Hey Son” ” and “Off With Your Axe,” retain the feel of some of the slower, yet more dramatic mid-era Zeppelin tracks. In other words, there’s a rock sensibility to Elizabeth’s Renaissance-instrumented folk. Could there be such a thing as `post-folk?’ If there is, or will be, Nancy Elizabeth should be cited as one of its progenitors.
Throw in a little Modest Mouse or Tom Waits comparison with the accordion / sea shanty flavored “Coriander,” some Jeff Buckley likenesses with “Weakened Bow” and a “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” feel to closer “Battle and Victory” and you will get more of a sense of the breadth of Nancy Elizabeth’s sound. When someone can be equally influenced by Zeppelin, Radiohead and medieval / Renaissance folk, you’re sure to end up with an interesting mix, but I don’t think anyone thought it could be this engaging.